One of the frustrating things about console versions of PC titles is that they're cut off from the modding scene - trapped behind Xbox Live's certification procedures and financial entry thresholds, like a Survivor contemplating a puddle of Spitter goo.
Fortunately, there are signs that the obstacles are beginning to dry up, that a middle ground is being achieved between quality control and the DIY aspirations of fans. Bethesda effectively showcased 12 months worth of possible Skyrim add-ons in February, giving viewers a say on what's top of the to-do list. 4J Studios maintains a close relationship with Minecraft Xbox 360 players, fine-tuning what it ports from PC versions to suit their needs. The level editor bandwagon keeps on rolling with Trials Evolution, Far Cry 3 and Halo 4. And Valve, architect of the world's definitive digital storefront, has finally got round to releasing a community-created Left 4 Dead 2 campaign as official Xbox 360 DLC.
That campaign is Cold Stream, and it's hopefully the first of many. A four-part trot along a forest watercourse which finds time for crowded sewers and vertiginous bridge-top battles, it sits alongside the events of Left 4 Dead 2 canon, and is built for raw intensity rather than dread. Every single chapter culminates with a make-or-break battle against swarming Infected, and you'll have shot, hacked, pummelled and exploded more than your fair share by the time you reach the tipping point.
The mood can feel a bit bombastic as a consequence: thanks to unceasing pressure from the Horde, there's relatively little time to excavate an area's secrets and build up the trepidation that makes, say, the early stages of Hard Rain so enjoyable. But if the barrage is relentless, the layouts do a solid job of keeping things fresh.
One of the first chapter's trump cards is a sliding tunnel entrance which triggers an upsurge of Infected, giving new force to the phrase "opening a can of worms". The second chapter polishes off with a Gauntlet event which sends you into a sewage pipe, the water sweeping you towards a precipice, and the third transports the group to a towering flyover (here be Grenade Launchers). Early in the fourth, there's a murderous series of waterfalls which can be easily exploited by Versus players to trap Survivors where they can't be rescued.
As a campaign which leans significantly on repurposed assets, Cold Stream does lack the personality which holds earlier flights of undead fantasy together. It's got all the familiar Left 4 Dead trappings, like Safehouse graffiti, but there's little in the way of a narrative core. In particular, the non-specific Survivor dialogue makes you appreciate just how much tailored asides like Ellis's nonsensical anecdotes add to things. Was recording a few additional lines really too much to ask, Valve?
A few other hiccups - a misused Tank moment, a slight overreliance on Horde-triggering doors - keep Cold Stream from exceeding what you'll find on the disc. It's ferociously good fun, however, and the presence of four campaigns from the original Left 4 Dead amply justifies the skeletal 560 MP asking price - less than half what you'd pay for five Modern Warfare 3 maps. The only major disappointment, really, is that this is the sole example of user-modded Left 4 Dead content on Xbox 360. Whatever Valve's reasons for holding off, a compromise needs to be struck, because there's an ocean of riches downriver.
There's more where that came from, Valve
- High intensity
- Varied scenarios
- Plenty of content
- Only one new campaign
- Doesn't quite nail the mood